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Ocean-Plastic Cleanup Schemes Fail to Separate Fantasy From Reality

Ocean-Plastic Cleanup Schemes Fail to Separate Fantasy From Reality

By Sarah (Steve) Mosko
Special to the Surf City Voice

Imagine using a thimble to empty a bathtub, with the faucet still running. That’s how experts on ocean plastics pollution generally see schemes focused on extracting the debris from the open ocean instead of strategies to prevent plastic waste from getting there in the first place.

Interest in methods to rid the oceans of plastic debris is motivated by very real threats to the entire ocean food web. The “North Pacific Garbage Patch” is the most studied of the five subtropical gyres, gigantic whirlpools where waste is picked up and concentrated by slow-swirling currents. There, plastic debris already outweighs zooplankton, tiny creatures at the base of the food web, by a factor of 36:1, according to the latest trawls by the Algalita Marine Research Institute in Long Beach.

Conventional plastics do not biodegrade on land or in water, but become brittle in sunlight and break apart into ever smaller bits of plastic, still containing toxic substances introduced during manufacture – like phthalates, bisphenol-A and flame retardants. Plastics also attract and concentrate persistent oily pollutants present in seawater. So plastic debris not only threatens sea creatures through entanglement or by clogging their digestive tracts, but also introduces dangerous chemicals into the food chain.

Except for the tiny fraction of plastics which has been incinerated, all plastic ever manufactured is still somewhere on the planet. And, with virgin plastics production still greatly outpacing recycling – which in the United States averaged only eight percent in 2010 – our oceans will continue to become more polluted with plastics until something is done to stop it. But given the vastness of the oceans, which cover 71 percent of the earth’s surface or some 360 million square kilometers, the question is, what realistically can be done?

The 5 subtropical gyres

The 5 subtropical gyres. Click to see entire image.

There are obvious realities which have to be confronted in any offshore cleanup plan, starting with how to find the debris. Gyres are loosely-defined expanses the size of continents. Even in the center where debris accumulation peaks, the effect is of a plastic soup with fragments distributed throughout the water column to a depth of roughly 20 meters. And, plastics are in no way confined to gyres, but amassing throughout marine environments as diverse as shoreline mangroves and the Arctic seafloor.

Next is the challenge of selectively extracting plastics, which become microscopic over time, without destroying sea life, and what about plastics already colonized by sea creatures? Then follows the dilemma of what to do with the plastics once extracted and, of course, how to fund the operation. Moreover, any device deployed in the sea would have to contend with the highly corrosive forces wrought by constant motion, violent storms, and accumulation of bird droppings and barnacles.

Two very different, recently proposed cleanup schemes serve to illustrate inherent challenges.

The Clean Oceans Project (TCOP) is a Santa Cruz-based non-profit proposing to build a manned, 65-foot sailing catamaran designed to skim from the sea’s surface four common types of plastics that float: #2HDPE, #4LDPE, #5PP, & #6PS. Polymers that don’t float, like nylon or #3PVC, could not be targeted. However, as 80 percent of marine plastic pollution is from land-based sources and predominantly from single-use products made of the targeted polymers, a meaningful dent might be made in the millions of tons of plastic debris believed to pollute the N. Pacific Gyre alone.

Gyre currents conveniently sweep floating debris into “streams” called windrows, visible to the naked eye. TCOP’s co-founder, Jim Holm, says that sophisticated technologies already on the open market enable both pinpointing the densest streams for cherry picking and removing floating debris from the water. Plastics are reaped onto a conveyor that, by vibrating, wards off turtles and swimming fish. Creatures which have colonized the debris would be stripped by hand and returned to the sea.

The plan is to target only debris captured by a ¼ inch mesh, as removing the larger stuff should, consequently, diminish microplastics over time. A hand-held spectrophotometer would aid in sorting plastics by polymer.

For TCOP, the game changer was stumbling upon a Japanese company, Blest, that already markets a plastics-to-light crude oil converter that can generate a gallon of fuel from eight pounds of plastic waste. There are no toxic air emissions (just water vapor and carbon dioxide) because the plastics are not incinerated, just heated for distillation into fuels.

TCOP hopes to create the first-ever shipboard converter to generate enough fuel to supplement the wind and solar sail technology that would power the catamaran. The costly transfer of collected plastics to landfills or recyclers (located primarily in China) would be eliminated. Priced at $199,000, the converter is designed to handle ~500 pounds of plastic in a day.

Plastics ingested by rainbow runner. (Algalita Martine Research Institute)

Plastics ingested by rainbow runner. (Algalita Martine Research Institute)

TCOP is seeking funding to deploy a test run in the N. Pacific Gyre. Holm is forthright in dismissing any fantasy that the endeavor would be profitable, acknowledging the indispensable support from corporate and philanthropic organizations.

A Dutch engineering student, Boyan Slat, recently made a media splash for a different cleanup design which capitalizes instead on a gyre’s natural currents to sweep debris to a fixed collection vessel anchored to the seafloor. Though few details are offered at this point, Slat conceives of a giant manta ray-shaped platform sporting two long, arm-like booms in an open “V” configuration for trapping floating debris ushered in by the current.

The round-surfaced booms would encourage plankton and other creatures to slide under unharmed, while plankton captured accidentally would somehow be separated out by gentle centrifugation. Slat has boldly predicted that only 24 such devices, staggered in a zigzagging line spanning one radius of the N. Pacific Gyre, could virtually clean it up in just five years by removing an estimated 7,250,000,000 kg of plastic debris. He postulates that the venture could be paid for by selling collected plastics to recyclers.

Slat’s design is still in the early idea stage, as his Ocean Cleanup Foundation was just founded this year, and he is seeking donations totaling $80,000 to conduct feasibility studies.

There’s been no shortage of skepticism about Slat’s proposal. For example, Stiv Wilson, policy director for the non-profit 5 Gyres Institute dedicated to remediating ocean plastic pollution, points out that the average depth of the open ocean is nearly 4,000 feet, twice the deepest successful moorings to date, and that a violent storm can destroy the sturdiest anchoring. Wilson also believes the cost alone of hauling plastics back to shore and to recyclers would exceed their market value. Add to this costly spectrophotometric analysis for sorting by polymer.

Beach cleanup is gyre cleanup. (Ocean Conservancy)

Beach cleanup is gyre cleanup.
(Ocean Conservancy)

The issue of whether there could ever be a market for plastics reaped from the sea definitely looms. Recycling weakens plastics’ polymer bonds, so plastics are generally “down-cycled” just once into end-products destined for landfills, like lumber. The first-ever plastic bottle with any post-ocean content, so far housing just one “Method” brand soap, is being marketed primarily to raise awareness about the need for packaging with recycled content. Infrastructure for recycling plastics in general within the United States remains very limited. Also, whether China will continue to accept the majority of U.S.’s plastic waste is brought into question by Operation Green Fence, China’s new policy blocking highly contaminated waste materials from entering.

Even if any gyre cleanup devices are ever successfully deployed, alone they could not solve the crisis of ocean plastics pollution, a conclusion that both Holm and Slat share. After recycling, the average American generates a half pound of plastic refuse daily (USEPA). As consumption of plastics generally parallels development, worldwide plastic waste generation is expected to continue to rise into the future. It seems delusional to believe that open ocean cleanup schemes could keep pace with new plastics entering the oceans.

The only rational approach is to focus first and foremost on stemming the flow of plastics into marine environments. In addition to maximizing recycling and placing barriers at obvious ocean entry points like river mouths, significant societal transformations are needed: for consumers, a shift away from single-use plastics and, for industry, embracing “extended producer responsibility” policies which make producers responsible for the sustainability of what they manufacture.

A good start might entail a producer fee on products made of virgin plastics, asking manufacturers to take back and recycle their products, and an end to planned product obsolescence. A study recently published in Marine Pollution Bulletin confirms that marine litter is reduced when plastics are better managed on land.

For plastics pollution already at sea, oceanographer and flotsam expert Curtis Ebbesmeyer points out that maybe half a gyre’s contents is jettisoned each rotation, ferried eventually by currents onto shores. This means anyone can lend a hand in gyre cleanup by participating in the annual International Coastal Cleanup organized by the Ocean Conservancy. The next one is on Sept. 21.

Lead photo credit: Plastic debris from N. Pacific Gyre. (Algalita Marine Research Institute)

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Mesa Water District: Vanity Leads to Questionable Media Consulting Fees at Ratepayers’ Expense

Mesa Water District: Vanity Leads to Questionable Media Consulting Fees at Ratepayers’ Expense

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

The Mesa Water District spent hundreds, if not thousands of dollars preparing its general manager and communications manager for a thirty minute interview with this reporter and researching my background, according to invoices obtained by the Surf City Voice under the Public Records Act.

The invoices are only four from a total of 30 received by Mesa Water from the consulting firm of Laer Pearce Associates between October, 2008 and December, 2012 for “branding” and general public relations and marketing assistance. But they help show the District’s obsession with its public image ever since Paul Shoenberger became its general manager in 2009 and hired Stacy Taylor as its communications manager in 2010.

That obsession became a costly exercise in vanity paid for by Mesa Water’s ratepayers.

Laer Pearce Associates invoice report

Laer Pearce Associates invoice report. Click once or twice to enlarge.

In chronological order, the first invoice (7976), for billing period Dec. 1 to Dec. 31, 2011, under “Media Relations”, states, “Attended 12/9 meeting with Paul and Stacy to discuss Surf City Voice interview request; drafted responses to questions submitted by reporter; worked with Taylor to help coordinate interview.”

Also under Media Relations:

  • Briefed Stacy on potential upcoming KOCE interview request; discussed strategy.
  • Prepared District messaging regarding ocean desalination.
  • Drafted quote and identified photos for Water Operator magazine inquiry.
  • Reviewed OC Register, Daily Pilot and local news blogs for issues pertinent to Mesa Water; provided recommendations as necessary.

Other categories were Collateral, Event Support, Branding, Community Outreach (no billings), and Website.

True to form for most of the LPA invoices, Invoice #7976 bills $4,500.00 on Media Relations of the $5,630.20 bill total, but does not show a detailed hourly breakdown for each subcategory of work, so there is no way of knowing how much time was spent researching the Surf City Voice or other news services or how much it cost per hour (when asked to explain the incomplete billing procedures, Taylor did not respond).

Likewise, Invoice #7982 (Jan. 1 – Jan. 31, 2012) lists $3,610.00 billed for Media Relations of a total bill of $8,162.00:

  • Attended 1/4 meeting with Paul and Stacy to prepare for Surf City Voice Interview; drafted bullet-point messages for Paul’s use during the interview; prepared press release following the interview recapping the discussion.
  • Drafted memo on potential social media opportunities
  • Reviewed OC Register, Daily Pilot and local news blogs for issues pertinent to Mesa Water; provided recommendations as necessary.

Invoice #8009 April 1 – April 30, 2012), however, is more detailed. It bills $318.00 for Media Relations out of a total bill of $8,842.90 and breaks it down in detail:

  • Meeting with Stacy at WACO to discuss Surf City Voice: 0.50hrs/$265/hr for $132.00
  • Researched reporters and contact info for Stacy: 0.70 hrs $265/hr for $185.50
  • For professional services rendered: 1.20 hrs/total $318.00

Invoice #8027 (June 1 – June 30, 2012) lists $220.00 spent on Media Relations, $132.50 for reviewing a Surf City Voice interview with Paul Shoenberger (here) and $87.00 (at $350/hr) for only reading a commentary by Director Fred Bockmiller published in the OC Register.

The Surf City Voice interview (here) that LPA helped Shoenberger and Taylor prepare for was conducted in January of 2012 and subsequently published in May, 2012, and apparently raised a lot of concern before and after it was published, as a series of emails reveal (see sidebar).

The invoices represent but a fraction of the total $290,141.40 that the district paid LPA for an ongoing contract that ended in December, but they illustrate the type of services provided that, arguably, were unnecessary or could have been provided at far less cost by Mesa’s communications manager, Stacy Taylor, whose $194,000 salary is already relatively high, according to a recent story in the OC Register.

Laer Pearce Associates invoice reportHourly pay rates charged to Mesa Water by LPA ranged from $265 per hour for work by LPA associate Ben Boyce to $350 for LPA president Laer Pearce.  Assuming – only to simplify calculations – that LPA charged the lower rate, LPA did a total of 1095 hours of work or 27 weeks of work at 40 hours per week.

That would come out to a rate of $508,000 per year for the same work that Taylor, who has over 20 years experience as a senior-level communications professional, could do or that her new assistant, Ann Moreno, could do in a salary range between $70,000 to $96,000.

Pearce objects to that comparison. By email, he wrote, “I couldn’t disagree more with your conclusion that there is any validity at all in the way you manipulated our billing rate,” he wrote. “To test it, ask yourself that if we billed someone $500 for a small task, would you say we could have billed them $400,000, based on our billing rate, if it had been a really big task? It illuminates nothing because it’s not based in reality.”

Recent news stories in the Voice of OC, the Register, Daily Pilot and the Surf City Voice, have questioned Mesa Water’s increased cash reserves and public relations spending budget in particular.

Starting Friday, the Surf City Voice will periodically publish LPA’s paid invoices to the Mesa Water District in full as well as other documents related to the Mesa Water District’s Strategic Communications Plan, so that ratepayers and the general public might better determine how their public water agency is being managed.

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Posted in Headlines, Mesa, Water, Water Boarding1 Comment

Huntington Beach Mayor Proposes Coastal Commission Reject of Poseidon Desalination Permit

Huntington Beach Mayor Proposes Coastal Commission Reject of Poseidon Desalination Permit

Mayor Connie Boardman’s proposed letter to the California Coastal Commission, below, will be before the Huntington Beach City Council on Monday, May 6, 2013. Public comments will be heard at the start of the city council meeting. Her proposed letter is based on findings made previously by Coastal Commission (here). A debate on the pros proposed Poseidon desalination plant can be read (here) and (here).

May 6, 2013

California Coastal Commission
45 Fremont Street, Suite 2000

San Francisco, CA 94105

Dear Commissioners:

In 2010, the Huntington Beach City Council approved the Coastal Development Permit No. 10-014, conditionally approving the “Poseidon Seawater Desalination Project”(Poseidon CDP).

The city’s approval of the Poseidon CDP was appealed by several organizations, aswell as Commissioners Wan and Mirkarimi.

I have been authorized by the Huntington Beach City Council to communicate to you that the current Huntington Beach City Council does not support the project as it is currently presented.

We are requesting that the California Coastal Commission deny the Coastal Development Permit for the Poseidon desalination project in Huntington Beach when this issue comes before the Commission.

Sincerely,
Connie Boardman
Mayor
City of Huntington Beach

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Posted in Environment, Headlines, Poseidon3 Comments

Retraction and Correction: Mesa Water Spent Public Money on Private Event, But GM Did Not Exceed His Authority

Retraction and Correction: Mesa Water Spent Public Money on Private Event, But GM Did Not Exceed His Authority

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

My story published yesterday (Mesa Water’s Celebration: Misuse of Public Funds?), about Mesa Water’s plan for a private celebration utilizing public money, contained one very important error: it strongly implied that the Mesa Water board had not approved of $49,650 in labor and materials costs for the event.

The implication drawn from that incorrect assertion was that General Manager Paul Shoenberger had exceeded his authority in funding the event. In fact, he was carrying out the orders of the Mesa Water Board of Directors which approved the expenditure of funds for the private celebration at its Nov. 27 board meeting.

My incorrect assertion was based on my interpretation of remarks made by Director Fred Bockmiller in a phone interview and printed in the article. Bockmiller told me that the board had not voted to make the event private and then said “I don’t believe there was ever a vote on it being an event.”

In fact, the event was listed is listed in the official minutes of the Nov. 27 board meeting as a “VIP event” and the board did vote to fund it 3-1-1, with Director James Atkinson voting no and Director Trudy Ohlig-Hall absent.

In my late night rush to finish the story by early morning, I should have slowed down long enough to double check a key element of the story. It was a careless error on my part. I sincerely apologize to the Mesa Board of Directors, to General Manager Paul Shoenberger in particular, and to all my readers.

The other key element of the story—that public funds were used to fund a private event, creating at least the appearance that Mesa Water had broken state law—still stands.

Sincerely,
John Earl
Editor/Surf City Voice

Posted in Headlines, Water, Water Boarding2 Comments

‘Nowaterdeal’: Desal Plant Opponents Will Reach Out to Thousands of Orange County Voters

‘Nowaterdeal’: Desal Plant Opponents Will Reach Out to Thousands of Orange County Voters

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

A growing number of county ratepayers, inspired by the late Gus Ayer, and opposed to a plan by Poseidon Resources Inc. to build an ocean desalination plant in Huntington Beach, have a message for the Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC) and its 28 member agencies:

No more secret negotiations or deals with Poseidon and don’t make us pay an additional $5 billion in local water bills—$8,500 per ratepayer—over the next 30 years for water that we don’t need.

Thirty-years is the time period in which the water agencies that contract with Poseidon would be required to pay for Poseidon’s desalinated water, whether it is needed or not, according to the water purchase agreement (WPA) made public by MWDOC in January.

The buyers “will agree to take (on a ‘take if delivered’ basis) [56,000] acre-feet per year of Product Water (the ‘Committed Amount’),” the WPA states. And if the buyers don’t take that amount of water, they will, “nonetheless pay Seller a per-acre foot charge to be set forth in the Contract…”

The WPA is not final, but it is the culmination of a decade-long relationship between MWDOC, its water agencies, and Poseidon.

The opposition group, heralding online as www.nowaterdeal.com, plans to spend tens-of- thousands of dollars to inform other ratepayers in high propensity voting areas of the county about Poseidon’s proposed “take or pay” contract, asking them to urge their local elected officials not to sign it.

Nowaterdeal is a coalition of members of Residents for Responsible Desal and other local ratepayers, including members of the Surfrider Foundation, League of Conservation Voters, and Orange County Coastkeepers, who at least until now had been fighting an uphill battle against Poseidon’s well financed lobbying efforts and a marketing campaign (largely unquestioned in the county’s major daily newspaper) that depicts its desalination plant as a future fallback point in case of prolonged drought or a natural disaster that would disrupt the flow of water to the public.

Poseidon would risk private investor flight without the guaranteed income, but take or pay would be risky for ratepayers if, as happened in drought drenched Australia, if the desalination plant were to sit idle due to lack of need. Currently, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), which sells water to MWDOC, has more surplus water stored up now (enough for 2.5 years) than ever before—testament to the ability to create backup reliability water without Poseidon.

Ocean desalination’s high maintenance and construction costs—and much higher energy costs—make it too risky, nowaterdeal says. Stuck with higher water rates and an idle desalination plant, ratepayers would fall into a rate trap. “As rates go up, people use less water” and “lower demand results in even higher rates, with fixed costs of the entire system spread over fewer units of water.”

Pimping2

Gus Ayer: MWDOC is pimping for Poseidon and should be eliminated. Photo: John Earl

The high cost-prediction is from information provided by Poseidon in the WPA and factors in conveyance and maintenance costs. With an inflation rate of 3.5 percent factored in, that means an estimated cost of $1,795 per acre foot for the desalinated water, compared to $285 per acre foot for local groundwater and $835 per acre foot for imported water, nowaterdeal says.

Acknowledging the higher cost of desalination, Poseidon VP Scott Maloni recently told the OC Register that Orange County residents have to ask, “What is the value of that reliability to them?”

But the underlying push for desalination plants along the California coast by the desalination industry and other development related business interests is not about drought relief alone, as MWDOC/MWD director Brett Barbre pointed out at a recent MWDOC committee meeting.

Barbre supports the Poseidon project and a smaller, less controversial, desalination project envisioned (but far from certain) for Dana Point in south Orange County. He also thinks that ratepayers throughout the county should have to pay for both projects on the basis that they would benefit everyone, even in water districts that say they don’t want or need the water.

“I believe that desal is not only for reliability. It’s also for growth,” he said. “And there are folks on the environmental side who don’t want any growth and they think if you don’t build water projects you can conserve your way to provide enough water for everybody. And that’s not ever going to happen.”

Although most of Poseidon’s opponents have always been concerned about the environmental effects of ocean desalination, the main focus of their current campaign is economic, while advocating for the development of proven and much cheaper water sources, including the Orange County Water District’s (OCWD) groundwater replenishment system, capturing rainwater, and conservation.

To start, the group will focus on about 50,000 voters in 14 north county cities, including Anaheim, Brea, Buena Park, La Palma, Orange, Newport Beach, Santa Ana, Seal Beach, Tustin and Westminster.

Twenty Orange County water agencies had signed non-binding letters of intent or memorandums of understanding with Poseidon to purchase, cumulatively, over 80,000 acre feet of water each year. Since those non-binding agreements expired in June, 2011, not a single agency has yet to renew.

Correction 02/05/2013: Eighteen agencies have signed Letters of Intent that have no expiration date, according to Karl Seckel, MWDOC’s acting General Manager. Those agencies, with the exception of Fullerton, are slated to participate in “working group discussions” regarding Poseidon during the 2012 fiscal year. Four other agencies are participating in working group discussions but have not signed LOIs. Participation in working group discussions is contingent upon signing a confidentiality agreement with Poseidon, but not all agencies that signed an LOI signed that agreement. The MOUs, which one presumes carried more weight, have all expired.

As Poseidon works to form an agreement with MWDOC and its member agencies, it requires all parties involved in project discussions to pledge absolute secrecy at Poseidon’s whim.

That lack of transparency and the overall elitist/exclusionary attitude at MWDOC and other OC water agencies, including their secret and arguably illegal meetings with Poseidon–all observed by a growing number of citizen spectators at water board meetings, as well as the company’s financial support of an ethically challenged hit piece in the recent Huntington Beach City Council campaign, have inspired Poseidon’s opponents, not only to challenge its political hegemony with a renewed vigor but to question the nature of Orange County water management as whole.

A temporary setback occurred for nowaterdeal when its chief strategist, former Fountain Valley mayor Gus Ayer, a master at crafting successful political campaigns in Orange County, died last week.

Earlier in the month, at a recent joint meeting of MWDOC and OCWD, Ayer praised the latter for its groundwater replenishment program and overall good management, but accused MWDOC of “mission creep” and “pimping for Poseidon.”

He also questioned whether MWDOC should exist.

“It’s time for OCWD to take a very close look at taking over these [MWDOC’s redundant] functions and eliminating MWDOC,” he said. Ayer expanded on that theme in a column written just before his death and published in the Surf City Voice.

Ayer’s untimely death saddened his colleagues but his upbeat attitude continues to motivate them.

“Gus’s last words to me were ‘Give them hell’”, recalled former Huntington Beach mayor Debbie Cook, who, during the past two years, has actively campaigned for greater transparency in water management.

“That was his way of saying that, if we don’t participate in democracy, we deserve the inevitable results. Nobody can replace our friend’s skill set, but he sparked a fire that emboldens us to carry on.”

 

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Posted in Energy, Environment, Headlines, MWD, MWDOC, Poseidon, Water, Water Boarding3 Comments

Can the Municipal Water District of Orange County Find A Reason to Exist?

Can the Municipal Water District of Orange County Find A Reason to Exist?

Editor’s note: Gus Ayer, the former mayor of Fountain Valley, was probably Orange County’s top progressive political strategist and activist. He passed away on Feb. 13, 2013. At that time he was about to unveil a major grassroots campaign to inform the county’s water ratepayers and their elected public officials that the nearly $1 billion ocean desalination plant proposed for construction in Huntington Beach was unnecessary and would cost about $5 billion extra over the next 30 years. That campaign, which he played a major role in organizing, is still underway. He submitted this column to the Surf City Voice a few days ago.

Analysis and Commentary
By Gus Ayer
Special to the Surf City Voice

Sometimes it’s fascinating to watch a public agency as it flounders around trying to find a reason to exist.

Lately, the Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC) is flailing like a beached whale.

After a Brooke Edwards Stagg OC Register article exposed the secretive nature of negotiations with Poseidon Resources for “Take or Pay” contracts on January 22, MWDOC scrambled into damage control mode.

  • Their General Manager was terminated after a hastily-called special Executive Session on February 1st, and is now relegated to a back room until his contract expires a few months from now.  Meanwhile an interim General Manager takes over his duties.
  • A press release linked to the term sheet of the Poseidon’s proposed “Take-or-Pay” contracts and a report on the costs of new pipeline projects was released and posted on Poseidon’s website. Sadly, it lacks the details that would allow any accurate analysis of the long term costs of the proposed plant.
  • MWDOC  is coming under increased scrutiny as a grassroots coalition begins a major public outreach program  to advise ratepayers how much they will pay for expensive desalinated water they don’t need.
  • IRWD Director Peer Swan publicly chastised them at a recent meeting for ignoring all of the efforts that had been made on a regional level to provide for water reliability, warning that they were recklessly advocating a project that would become a “stranded asset”
  • Simmering disputes between different regions of the county threaten to erupt again, which would lead for another round of talks about cities seceding from MWDOC or just eliminating this agency and their bureaucracy.

Just What is MWDOC?

The hierarchy of Water districts can be confusing.

We pay our water bills to local water agencies, including many individual cities, independent agencies like the Irvine Ranch Water District, and even one privately owned water company, Golden State Water.

One regional agency manages our groundwater supplies (Orange County Water District).

Another super regional agency manages imported water for most of Southern California, the Metropolitan Water District, commonly known as “MET”.

Then we have MWDOC, which was established in 1951 to administer purchases of imported water from Met on behalf of smaller Orange County cities and unincorporated areas.  MWDOC’s original role role was just as a middleman between MET and 16 small cities with a population of around 80,000.  Three cities (Anaheim, Santa Ana, and Fullerton) were big enough to buy water directly from MWD.

In the boom days after World War II, MET was seeking customers to buy the water from the Colorado River Aqueduct. Orange County developers were looking for more water to meet the demands for swathes of development that would replace agriculture and ranching.

What Does MWDOC Do?

MWDOC has seven elected directors. They appoint four directors to the MET board. They share a headquarters building with the Orange County Water District in Fountain Valley.

MWDOC holds seven redundant meetings a month, each of which guarantees a $221.62 daily payment to each of its seven directors, who typically  attend all committee meetings and also receive benefits and health insurance.   Directors also travel, with a budget over $30,000 a year to attend local, state and national conferences (not including their meeting payments).  If you are one of the directors appointed to MET, you also get paid to attend MET meetings.

In a recent year one director, Director and MET rep Brett Barbre was paid $51,859 for attending 242 meetings and also cost rate-payers $17,435 for benefits, including pension and health insurance.  This wasn’t his day job. He also is a lobbyist for clients like trash-hauler Athens Services.

In an OC  Register Watchdog  http://taxdollars.ocregister.com/2010/03/05/when-brainstorming-costs-nearly-500000/52647/  article, he is described as a “political operative,”  and campaign finance records show that Barbre was paid $20,000 plus expenses for consulting on Troy Edgar’s 2012 campaign for State Assembly.

MWDOC’s Mission

In addition to doing the accounting for MET purchases and sending four people to attend meetings of MET’s 51 person board, MWDOC has struggled to expand its mission to include:

  1. Administering Water Efficiency grants for Orange County cities trying to do the bare minimum of effort under statewide mandates.
  2. A few education programs
  3. Sponsoring breakfasts, dinners and seminars where vendors, consultants and lobbyists can hobnob with elected officials, all subsidized with ratepayer funds and agency staff time.

MWDOC and Desalination

MWDOC directors seem determined to play in the world desalination: turning sea water into drinking water, although MWDOC has no construction management experience and no experience in operating water systems. We might attribute this ambition to their sense of impotence with the bigger players, boredom, or the need to justify their existence. Beware of arrogance combined with incompetence—it often leads to disastrous outcomes.

It’s unclear that MWDOC has any legal authority to undertake any efforts in this area.

Historically, the cities and water agencies that belong to MWDOC have chafed at their budgets and MWDOC’s financial management.  The underlying tensions became so high several years ago that South County agencies looked at seceding from MWDOC to form their own agency. In a settlement agreement, MWDOC committed to a new compact that made several changes,

1.)    MWDOC agreed to change the way it billed for its services to lower costs for South County agencies.

2.)    MWDOC agreed to a specific list of services that they would undertake and differentiated between Core and Choice services

3.)    MWDOC agreed to listen to South County agencies regarding appointments to the MET Board.

4.)    MWDOC agreed to reduce their bloated reserve funds.

Under this agreement it’s very clear that spending on desalination projects is listed under the Choice category, where cities have a right to participate. Although Director Brett Barbre speaks about changing what’s in each category, the actual agreement signed by the cities has no mechanism to do this. Barbre favors placing ocean desalination in the Core category, but any attempt by MWDOC to redefine Desalination projects as core projects would likely lead to renewed secession attempts or lawsuits.

Calls for Abolishing MWDOC

How many water agencies do we need, each with their own expenses for directors and their benefits, lobbyists, consultants and public relations staffs? MWDOC directors recently discussed a project to renovate the exhibits in the hallway that they share with OCWD, with a budget of $1.3 million dollars plus staff time.

The Orange County Grand Jury recommended consolidating water agencies to reduce costs and provide services more efficiently. Others have recommended that MWDOC reduce its role back to the simple accounting functions it was originally designed to achieve, with its other functions transferred to other agencies with a strong record of success, like the Orange County Water District and the Irvine Ranch Water District.

We think that’s a great idea. MWDOC has outlived its usefulness and their continued mission creep wastes the ratepayers’ dollars and creates mischief. MWDOC’s functions can easily be absorbed into other agencies and it’s time to start a process to sunset this relic of a bygone era.

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Commentary: Mesa Water Drops Fiduciary Duties as Ratepayers Pick Up the Tab

Commentary: Mesa Water Drops Fiduciary Duties as Ratepayers Pick Up the Tab

By Debbie Cook
Special to the Surf City Voice

(Editor’s note: This story has been republished below to correct a typo that could not be removed from the http link)

Over the past several months I have been trying to get to the truth behind Mesa Water District’s obsession with Poseidon Inc.’s proposal to build an ocean desalination plant in Huntington Beach.

Since 2009, the water agency has gone from a typical local water provider to become the State’s biggest booster of ocean desalination, spending tens of thousands of dollars in cash, resources, and staff time for a project that makes zero business sense.

So I spent the last week perusing Mesa’s board agendas.  I now have a better understanding of the cause of the agency’s new found love affair.

First and foremost, you need look no further than Mesa’s general manager, Paul Shoenberger.

Prior to his employment at Mesa, Shoenberger worked for Los Angeles County’s biggest desalination cheerleader, West Basin Water District. In 2009, he concurrently served on Mesa’s board of directors before applying and “winning” his influential position as Mesa’s general manager.

But Shoenberger has some explaining to do about that victory.

The position was advertised in March of 2009 with a filing deadline of May 8, 2009. But Shoenberger didn’t resign his seat until July 13, 2009.

He may have thought he was escaping the perils of Government Code Section 1090 by leaving Mesa’s board meetings prior to any closed session discussions about the position, but 1090 precludes the entire board from negotiating a contract in which one of its members has a financial interest.  Fortunately for Shoenberger, he needn’t worry too much—conflicts of interest are rarely prosecuted in Orange County.

During Mesa’s change of guard, the agency forgot his fiduciary duty to the public and signed a letter of intent with Poseidon to buy water its ratepayers would never need (Mesa proudly proclaims its self-sustaining independence from imported water sources), heralding a bond of cooperation to pursue approval of a huge but unneeded desalination plant that will add $5 billion in local water bills, an average of $8,500 per Orange County ratepayer, over the next 30 years.

Under the agenda item vaguely listed as “other,” and without a vote, the Mesa board gave Shoenberger the go ahead to start a secretive organization that would lobby on behalf of the desalination industry and developers. The board turned a blind eye and Shoenberger spent staff time and money as he saw fit to create CalDesal. Mesa board member Shawn Dewane became its first President.

CalDesal began with lofty goals, but its membership has remained static at about 70 in number — each paying $5,000 in annual dues — for two of its three years. That membership is divided about evenly between officials from public agencies, such as Mesa Water, and a mixture of corporate CEOs and consultants looking to make a killing in the client-rich environment that CalDesal was designed to provide for them.

CalDesal’s modus operandi is to lobby for desalination projects and regulatory “streamlining” — code word for rolling back fundamental environmental protection and permitting rules that stand in the way of desalination and unbridled development in general.

As CalDesal President and Mesa director, Dewane is reimbursed for travel expenses to the Sacramento based “non-profit” and receives a stipend for attending its meetings–courtesy of Mesa’s ratepayers.

Shoenberger argues that the agency’s support of CalDesal is no different than its support of many other non-profits…like the Orange County Business Council, another non-profit the agency joined shortly after Shoenberger became GM. Membership dues, staff time, stipend pay…it all adds up to an agency that has money and time to waste.

From my examination of public records, Shoenberger spends too much of the ratepayers’ time and dime promoting desalination and not enough time looking out for the interests of the agency that pays him over $230,000 per year.

Much of Shoenberger’s time is spent serving on the boards of outside organizations, as chair of the ACWA (Association of California Water Agencies) desalination sub-committee, as a member of the New Water Supply Coalition (another desalination lobby group), and as a board member of the Affordable Desalination Collaboration (a laughable oxymoron as desalinated water is many times more expensive than any other water source).  District resources support all of his outside desalination activities including his many speaking engagements and conferences within and outside the state.

Shoenberger and his board have also seen fit to reward consultants and contractors of Poseidon with Mesa contracts.  At a recent committee meeting, board president Jim Fisler and director Dewane recommended that Mesa hire Richard Brady and Associates, the same outfit that completed modeling work for Poseidon.

Mesa also uses Poseidon pollster Adam Probolsky who conducted a “push” poll to demonstrate public support of ocean desalination (of course, the ratepayers who were polled were not told the cost of the proposed water or project).  Probolsky works closely with Roger Faubel, a PR consultant who has worked for Poseidon for the past decade and who himself is on the Board of Directors of Santa Margarita Water District.  Faubel also does work for Mesa.  And last summer Mesa hired Phil Lauri who was the manager of West Basin’s Ocean Desalination program.

In earlier times, the media or enforcement agencies might have taken note of the many flagrant violations of public trust at Mesa, but not today.

Today, Mesa operates with impunity, even when it meets in anonymity–which it often does.

Since Paul Shoenberger became Mesa Water’s general manager, its board members have conducted at least 16 illegal closed-door sessions to discuss Poseidon.

Shawn Dewane refuses to comply with lawful public records act requests regarding CalDesal.

Adding insult to injury, the inquiring public is treated to rude remarks from the board, both in their presence and when they are unable to hear or respond.

The truth about Mesa’s obsession with the Poseidon project is obfuscated by its lack of transparency.

But what can we do about it?

Since the public can no longer look to the mainstream media, or to the District Attorney, or to the State Attorney General, it is up to each of us to participate in the democratic process, to attend Mesa Water meetings, to question, to expose wrong doing, and to propose constructive solutions.

As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Truth never damages a cause that is just.”

Let the truth about Mesa Water be told.

Debbie Cook is a former mayor of Huntington Beach and an advocate for greater transparency in public water management.

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Triple Toxic Whammy Threatens Food Web, Ocean Study Shows

Triple Toxic Whammy Threatens Food Web, Ocean Study Shows

By Sarah (Steve) Mosko
Special to the Surf City Voice

While plastic refuse on land is a familiar eyesore as litter and a burden on our landfills, in the marine environment it can be lethal to sea creatures by way of ingestion or entanglement. Now, an important new study1 adds to a growing body of evidence that ocean plastic debris is also a threat to humans because plastics are vehicles for introducing toxic chemicals of three sources into the ocean food web.

Background
Two of the sources are intrinsic to the plastic material itself and have been described in previous studies.

Composition of man-made ocean pollution.

Composition of man-made ocean pollution.

The first is the very building blocks of plastic polymers, called monomers, which are linked together during polymerization. However, polymerization is never complete, always leaving some monomers unattached and free to migrate out into whatever medium the plastic comes in contact, like foods/beverages or the guts of a sea creature that mistook it for food. Some monomers are known to be inherently toxic, like the carcinogen vinyl chloride that makes up polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics, or the endocrine disruptor bisphenol-A (BPA) that makes of polycarbonate plastics.

The second intrinsic source of risky chemicals is the brew of additives that manufacturers mix in to impart plastics with desired properties. Additives can have toxic properties of their own (like some softening agents and flame retardants), and they are also free to leach out and contaminate their surroundings. Manufacturers generally consider their blends of additives as proprietary information and secret.

A study just published in December in the journal Environmental Science & Technology addresses a third but external source of toxic substances associated with plastics, deriving from oily pollutants commonly found in seawater that glom onto the surface of plastic debris. Plastics are oily materials synthesized from petroleum or natural gas and, in water environments like the ocean, they attract other oily chemicals floating about. This was first measured in 2001 when plastic preproduction pellets (the raw materials of plastic manufacturing) collected from coastal Japanese waters were found to have accumulated toxins at concentrations up to a million times that found in the surrounding seawater.

That study was limited to polypropylene (PP) pellets exposed for just 6 days and tested for two types of persistent toxins still common in seawater though banned in the United States in the 1970s and internationally in 2001: DDE (a breakdown product of the insecticide DDT credited with near extinction of the bald eagle) and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls, a family of chemicals with widespread electrical applications).

The study described here from researchers at San Diego State University compared how readily the five most common mass-produced plastic polymers accumulate hazardous chemicals from local seawater.

The findings are especially disturbing given that trawls of the five oceanic gyres around the world (slow-swirling, Texas-sized whirlpools where refuse gathers) are documenting the buildup of alarmingly high densities of plastic debris. In the so-called “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” between California and Japan, the latest trawls by the Long Beach-based Algalita Marine Research Institute found that plastic debris outweighs zooplankton (tiny creatures at the bottom of the food web) by a factor of 36:1. Plastic is amassing even in areas as remote as the Arctic seafloor.

What Did They Do?
The researchers deposited uncontaminated, preproduction pellets (2-3 mm in size) of five types of plastics at five locations in San Diego Bay, CA. Samples were recovered for analysis of adhered toxins at intervals of 1, 3, 6, 9 and 12 months. Testing was performed for a total of 42 distinct chemicals falling into two general families of persistent organic pollutants: PCBs and PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons – byproducts of burning fossil fuels or forest fires).

What Did They Find?
All five plastic polymers were accumulators of both PCBs and PAHs, showing increasing concentrations over time. However, three of the polymers (HDPE, LDPE and PP) consistently soaked up both chemical families at concentrations an order of magnitude higher than the other two (PVC and PET), a pattern repeated at all time points and bay locations. After 12 months of exposure for example, there was a 34-fold difference in average total PCBs amassed on LDPE compared to PET at one location. The researchers think that differences in the size and shape of the polymer molecules can explain why some accumulate more pollutants than others.

As expected, seawater concentrations of PCBs and PAHs varied somewhat over time and between bay locations. Nonetheless, PVC and PET had generally reached equilibrium concentrations of the pollutants by 6 months, whereas the other three plastics had not always reached equilibrium by even 12 months. This is much longer than had been predicted in previous laboratory simulations where polymers were not subject to weathering at sea which produces pits and other surface irregularities, increasing the surface area available to which toxins can stick.

Implications
Numerous studies have now documented that ingestion of marine plastic debris is commonplace at all levels of the food web, whether passively by filter feeders, like krill and many fish, or actively when mistaken for food by animals as diverse as sea birds, turtles and whales. All these creatures represent entry points into the ocean food web for toxins either placed in plastics during manufacturing or extracted later from seawater. This study highlights that mass-produced plastics today are all potential vehicles for transporting hazardous chemicals found in seawater, so it will be hard to argue that any one plastic is harmless as an ocean pollutant. As example, PP is often considered inherently less toxic than PVC because vinyl chloride is a known carcinogen, yet PP soaks up far more PCBs and PAHs from seawater. The study authors did suggest, however, that PET might be considered of relatively low toxicity because it generally contains fewer additives and appears to accumulate lower concentrations of seawater pollutants.

Another disturbing implication of this study is that marine plastic debris can actually become progressively more chemically hazardous as weathering continues to increase the surface area available for gathering pollutants. Analogously, larger plastics debris breaks apart over time into smaller bits, also increasing total surface area. The smaller the plastic debris, the greater likelihood it can be ingested by the tiniest creatures at the bottom of the food web. Adding to this concern are studies suggesting that “microplastics” (smaller than 1 mm, e.g.) might be more common and certainly harder to measure in marine environments than readily visible debris. No one has yet analyzed how high are the concentrations of ocean pollutants stuck to such miniscule, even microscopic, fragments.

The findings of this study also serve to draw fire to any notion that developing marine biodegradable plastics will automatically eliminate the threat to human health of toxins associated with conventional plastics which are non-biodegradable. The sole standard established to date for biodegradation of plastics in the marine environment allows that, at 6 months, plastic bits up to 2 mm can remain and only 30 percent of the material must have successfully undergone biodegradation (ASTM D7081). This standard describes a framework allowing even biodegradable plastic debris ample opportunity to deliver a triple chemical threat into the ocean food chain and maybe even onto our own dinner plates.

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Water Flash: Poseidon Carlsbad Vote Passes

Meeting in progress to considering voting for or against a water purchase agreement with Poseidon Resources Inc. for desalinated water from its proposed $1 billion project in Carlsbad, San Diego County. Photo: Debbie Cook

Public comments have wrapped up and at the San Diego County Water Authority special board meeting to consider a 30-year water purchase agreement with Poseidon Resources Inc. to supply up to (but as yet unknown) 56,000 acre feet of water for San Diego County by desalinating up to 100 million gallons of ocean water to turn it into 50 million gallons of drinking water each day from off the coast of the city of Carlsbad.

Supporting the $1 billion project: big business interests, politicians, chamber of commerce, labor etc. Opposed: environmentalists, ocean users and activist rate payers. About evenly divided so far. The board room is full, about 160 people in attendance. Locals speaking: former Huntington Beach mayor Debbie Cook, former Fountain Valley mayor Gus Ayer. You can listen to the arguments pro and con and to the subsequent vote online at http://www.sdcwa.org/meetings-and-documents. More later.

Update: Board discussion is underway now. “Direct the General Manager to refer to nine Carlsbad Desalination Rate Structure  Alternatives to the Cost of Service Consultant and return to the Board with a recommended alternative to allocated the cost of the Carlsbad Desalination Project: Staff Recommendation: Approve the submission of nine requested Carlsbad Desalination Rate Structure Alternatives to the Cost of Service Consultant.”

Vote on motion by Director Mudd, 2nd by Boyle: 95.85 % of the vote cast and passes unanimously. Only 2 of the 24 water agencies under the SDCWA umbrella have signed a memorandum of intent to buy water to be produced from the the project.

Under consideration: Adopt resolution approving: 1) Water Purchase Agreement with Poseidon Resources; 2) Design Build Agreement; 3) Agreements necessary to accomplish tax exempt project financing through the California Pollution Control Financing Authority; 4) Adjustments to the Capital Improvement Program Budget; 5) Supporting contracts and contract amendments; 6 Other actions necessary for implementation of the Carlsbad Desalination Project; Staff recommendation: approve.

Discussion ongoing.

Vote taken on Water Purchase Agreement passes with 85 percent of the vote (vote is weighted according to property values in each district).

Document room. Photo: Debbie Cook

 

 

San Diego County Water Authority meeting underway (11/29/12): Photo: Debbie Cook

Artist’s conception of proposed Carlsbad ocean desalination plant.

Posted in Energy, Environment, Headlines, Poseidon, Water4 Comments

Mesa Water Directors Fail to Censure Trudy Ohlig-Hall

Mesa Water Directors Fail to Censure Trudy Ohlig-Hall

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

The Nov. 13 episode of the Mesa Consolidated Water District Board of Directors should make the public citizen wonder if that body is capable to handle the challenges of water management in the 21st Century when it barely knows how to run a board meeting.

The issue before the board was whether to censure fellow director Trudy Ohlig-Hall or not, but some of its members seemed to be confused by the process.

Ohlig-Hall, who had just been trounced by election opponent Ethan Temianka 58.5 percent to 41.5 percent on Nov. 6, was absent.

For another month she will continue to represent Division Three of Mesa Water’s service area, which includes parts of Costa Mesa and Newport Beach. She was up for reelection having served on the five-member board since 1987.

Ohlig-Hall has been absent from duty since she walked out of the Oct. 23 board meeting just after directors James Fisler and Shawn Dewane, who campaigned for Temianka, introduced a motion to censure her for being rude toward staff.

The motion was ruled out of order at that time by board president Fred Bockmiller because no resolution for censure had been written or legally placed on the meeting agenda.

Instead, the board voted 3 – 1 (Director Ohlig-Hall was absent, James Atkinson voted no) to direct staff to draw up a resolution of censure against Ohlig-Hall for consideration at the Nov. 13 board meeting.

Trudy Ohlig-Hall, James Atkinson. Photo: Surf City Voice

Fisler and Dewane repeatedly denounced Ohlig-Hall for being “rude and aberrant” not only to two staff members who cried and sobbed as a result on Aug. 20, the incident that sparked two investigations, but to other directors and their wives for the past 25 years.

At the Nov. 13 board meeting Fisler and Dewane were eager to pass the completed resolution. Bockmiller and Atkinson, however, said it was a moot point since Ohlig-Hall would soon be replaced by Tamianka anyway. So, they introduced a motion to table the resolution.

But Dewane and Fisler still wanted to draw Ohlig-Hall’s blood.

“Can I make a substitute motion not to table it,” Fisler asked.

It was a redundant gesture because a no vote on Bockmiller’s motion to table would accomplish same thing. Of course, Bockmiller’s original motion was pointless too because the vote was certain to end at 2 -2 and a tie loses by default.

Fisler argued that it was important to “show our staff that the board of directors basically has their back” when they are mistreated by a board member.

Dewane agreed. “To do anything less than to follow through with what we voted on is the abdication of the responsibility of the board of directors.”

Bockmiller disagreed. “To say that a director voting against this (motion not to table the resolution) is voting against staff is a falsehood. In the strongest terms, it is not true.”

Censuring another board member would be “unprecedented in California water politics history,” he emphasized, “And there have been directors’ behaviors far more ludicrous than Director Ohlig-Hall’s behaviors.”

To censure Ohlig-Hall would be an “empty gesture,” would require reading it aloud at the board meeting and transmitting a copy to the Orange County Board of Supervisors, “all of which would waste time, money and effort over somebody who will no longer be an elected official within a few days.”

Atkinson agreed, adding that the resolution’s reference to a third-party “independent” investigator’s report, which relied on hearsay—statements attributed to Ohlig-Hall by Mesa’s in-house (and potentially biased) investigator the day after the alleged incident—was unfair to her.

Predictably, the vote on the motion not to table the resolution failed by a tie vote—Dewane and Fisler for vs. Atkinson and Bockmiller against.

Then on to Bockmiller’s motion to table, which, after comment by one public citizen, also failed 2 -2.

Then it was back to the resolution to censure that remained on the agenda, after all.

James Fisler and Shawn Dewane. Photo: Surf City Voice

Bockmiller, who as the board’s president runs its meetings, admonished that “We are simply speaking about this resolution which is before us tonight” and nothing else.

But Dewane ignored Bockmiller’s instructions, saying that he wanted to make sure that the investigator’s report, a public document, is posted to Mesa’s website. Then he presumed that Ohlig-Hall did not consent to be interviewed by the outside investigator because “she felt that there was nothing else to add to the report…” It [including hearsay testimony about Ohlig-Hall] is the most objective information available, he said, and the public has a right to know about it.

Bockmiller then revealed that Ohlig-Hall had claimed to him that her invitation to be interviewed by the outside investigator came late one afternoon and she was unable on short notice to have her attorney present. “And so she was unable to participate in the interview and no other opportunities were provided,” Bockmiller said.

Then Dewane, who had just based his call for censure on hearsay testimony, blew a fuse—because Bockmiller used hearsay.

“If it’s her statement—you making her statement is hearsay,” Dewane complained. “I believe that’s inappropriate to put words in her mouth or take her statement and read it into the record.”

Ohlig-Hall could have defended herself, he said, and her attorney, former Costa Mesa city council member Katrina Foley, is “notorious in the city for representing usually staff members in situations like this rather than board members.”

Ohlig-Hall chose not to defend herself, “So, I would just suggest that your comments, Director Bockmiller, be stricken from the record. It’s inappropriate to make statements on her behalf,” he fumed.

“Director Dewane,” Bockmiller called out.

“Yes?”

“Your comments are ruled out of order. And it’s perfectly permissible for me to speak as to what has been communicated to me. This is not a court of law. This is a board meeting.”

More discussion followed from Fisler.

Then, off topic again, Dewane said he wanted to be clear whether the investigator’s report would be made available to the public on the Internet or not.

Bockmiller, oblivious to his own instructions (and the Brown Act, which says a government body can’t vote on an item not on the agenda) asked if there has been a motion to put the report on Mesa Water’s website.

There had not been a motion so Dewane made one: all documents related to the case should be placed online.

But Mesa’s legal counsel quickly pointed out that the board can’t legally vote on something that isn’t on the agenda. Only the resolution itself was on the agenda.

Then Bockmiller instructed that the board would not vote on Dewane’s [illegal] motion unless it wants to unanimously pass an emergency action to put the issue (of placing investigator’s documents online) on the agenda right then.

Dewane quickly made a motion to do just that.

No need for that, legal counsel said. Any director can simply ask staff to have the matter put on a [future] agenda.

But Dewane wanted to vote then and there—no more waiting.

Bockmiller worried that Dewane’s motion might be illegal, after all, and legal counsel emphatically warned that it would be.  “I would urge the board not to put this on as an emergency item. There is not a legal precedent to support it,” he warned.

Dewane then instructed General Manager Paul Shoenberger to place the item on the next meeting’s agenda.

Getting back to the resolution, Dewane said that Ohlig-Hall is not off the hook just because she lost the election. Anyway, he claimed wishfully, the board had already voted in favor of the resolution at the Oct. 23 meeting. By bringing it up at yet another meeting the board was belaboring the issue, he said.

Fisler confirmed that he too thought a motion of censure had passed at the previous meeting. “I don’t know why you went on for ten minutes about what a tough decision it was if it wasn’t a motion for censure,” he complained to Bockmiller.

But Bockmiller pointed out that there was no such resolution on the agenda to adopt at that time.

“That would be a Pelosiesk move to adopt the resolution without reading it, and we know how that has gone with the health care bill,” he quipped.

Bockmiller regretted that Ohlig-Hall did not make the public apology that he says she promised him she would make. In retrospect, he believes that the board jumped the gun by going toward censure—a formal letter from the board to Ohlig-Hall should have come first.

“Something happened,” he said, but adding that the resolution was probably written too harshly.

The vote was as predicted, Bockmiller and Atkinson against, Dewane and Fisler for.

After four committee meetings, two board meetings and two investigations, the motion to censure failed.

A simpler action would have been for General Manager Paul Shoenberger, who is the sole boss of Mesa’s employees, to instruct Director Ohlig-Hall that staff were off limits to her from now on, a policy that he could have enforced with the rest of the board’s support if necessary.

Next up on the board’s agenda that night: Branding Campaign Wrap Up, or how Mesa Consolidated Water spent thousands of dollars to change its name and logos in order to promote greater public awareness.

More on that, soon.

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